15 Reasons to Visit Bend, Oregon

Photo courtesy of Visit Bend

Bend, a small city in Central Oregon, is the state’s undisputed adventure playground. The picturesque former mill town — a 3.5-hour drive from Portland and a 1.5-hour flight from SFO — has more sunny days than anywhere else in Oregon and is surrounded by snowcapped mountains, including Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters, and glittering fishable rivers. Each May, the Pole, Pedal, Paddle relay race attracts outdoorsy types from all over the country and nearby Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne has world-class rock climbing and hiking. While Bend has always been a vacation destination for Oregonians, many professionals have relocated to Bend from Portland and the Bay Area in search of healthier lifestyles incorporating work and play in the last few years. The town has also seen an influx of sophisticated offerings catering to new residents’ and visitors’ tastes, including a new wellness retreat, chef-driven restaurants, wine bars and stylish shopping. Here’s our guide to the best of Bend.


Where to Stay

East of Bend in a mystical juniper forest, Juniper Preserve (from $250 per night) has been going through a transformation over the last year. With a new focus on well-being, the luxury resort and golf club with two championship golf courses has shrugged off its dark Old World style for a look that epitomizes “New Bend.” Recently renovated rooms at Juniper Lodge feature earth tones, fine silk sconces and locally made pottery. In the lobby, guests are welcomed with double-height windows, a stone fireplace, a coffee bar and greenery. The property will see various updates throughout the year, such as a market and upgraded villas.

At the new Juniper Spa, which opened in June, treatments are inspired by ancient traditions and the high desert, including gemstone facials and an anti-inflammatory Sweet and Spicy CBD Massage, which I experienced on a recent visit, using CBD from an organic farm in Southern Oregon. The cloves and cinnamon in the formula result in a delightfully “spicy” warming rather than cooling sensation. After the massage and a transcendental breath work session, I felt completely free of anxiety and stress.

Juniper Preserve also has a unique lava cave venue below the property’s surface, created by lava that flowed like a river thousands of years ago. In the cool and quiet cave, expert healing practitioners host various wellness activities like group meditations, ecstatic dance, yoga and sound baths. Special events open to the public — like a Birds of Prey–themed dinner with Opus One — are held in the caves in the spring and summer.


Where to Eat and Drink

On weekends after bombing down mountain biking trails or spring skiing and snowboarding at Mount Bachelor, many locals gather for spicy blackberry margaritas and za’atar fries next to the fire pits at the Grove. The mixed-used development with exposed timber and clean lines has become the new heart of the Bend social scene with a food hall, live music, a seafood market and a bar.

Bend’s most notable new restaurant, Rancher Butcher Chef, is also in the stylish Grove development. Veterans from the Portland restaurant scene, including John and Renee Gorham, relocated to Bend and opened this lively steakhouse and butcher counter in September. “Bend is such an amazing lifestyle city and there’s no reason it can’t be an amazing food city as well,” says Renee. “When we were looking to change our lifestyle, this called us in every way,” she adds. Impeccably sourced dry-aged meats from a partner ranch in Fort Klamath and Spanish-influenced small plates are meant to be shared along with offerings from a well-edited wine list.

A pair of new Italian restaurants have also been welcome additions to the Bend food scene. On Galveston Avenue, the restaurant Bosa Food & Drink serves house-made pasta in an industrial space. Chef Nate King worked in some of the top kitchens in Aspen, like the Little Nell and Conundrum Restaurant. Nome Italiano is inspired by classic red sauce joints and serves wood-fired pizzas, wild boar ragu and decadent tiramisu.

While not new, the most in-demand dinner reservation in Bend is still at Ariana. The husband-and-wife team Andres and Ariana Fernandez have cooked at the James Beard Foundation. The couple’s Pacific Northwest cuisine with worldly influences such as ora king salmon with tamari roasted sunchokes, yuzu-miso emulsion and Fresno chiles is always elegant and refined. The tasting menu and wine pairing ($150) is a steal.

As the place where Deschutes Brewery and 10 Barrel Brewing started, Bend is known for beer, but wine and cocktail lovers increasingly have good options. Acclaimed Willamette Valley winery Domaine Serene opened a wine lounge in a historic corner building in downtown Bend last year. In the red-brick-accented space, knowledgeable staff pour a wide range of chardonnay and pinot noir by the glass, including offerings from the Willamette Valley and Burgundy. There’s also a secret wine cave in the basement. Natural wine lovers should go to minimalist FERM & Fare for unique pours like aromatic Savage Grace orange gewürztraminer from Columbia Valley, Washington, and tucked in a downtown alleyway, San Simón serves cheese and charcuterie boards and an ever-changing menu of well-balanced cocktails.

Visitors who want a frothy IPA following a day of activity should go to Crosscut Warming Hut No. 5 in the Old Mill District, where 36 taps rotate the best craft beer from Bend and the state. Crosscut is kid-friendly and has tables in the vaulted indoor space or outside on the patio. Should you really need a warm-up, order a whiskey and sit by one of the many roaring fires.


What to Do

Devoted to promoting and preserving the cultural heritage and nature of North America’s high desert, the High Desert Museum, a 10-minute drive south of town on US-97, is part wildlife refuge, part cultural center. Families will find permanent exhibitions about the West like an immersive exhibit highlighting the experiences of Native peoples of the Columbian River Plateau, wildlife encounters — the three social otters are always a highlight — and rotating exhibitions like Bay Area–based photographer Gabriela Hasbun’s exhibit about the only Black touring rodeo in the country. In the Arena runs through June 25.

Bend has a vibrant downtown with cobblestone sidewalks and next to no vacancy signs. Take time to peruse the locally owned shops like Hot Box Betty, which sells new designer Nili Lotan and Isabel Marant pieces alongside vintage Chanel and Louis Vuitton totes, the Feather’s Edge for handmade gifts like copper ladles and leather handbags made by local artisans, and Wren and Wild. The mother-and-daughter-owned clean beauty boutique expanded in 2022 and showcases top-quality beauty brands (Westman Atelier, Tata Harper), pop-up events and makeovers in a light-filled space that feels like a mini department store.

Life in Bend revolves around the Deschutes River, which flows through the middle of the city. The Deschutes River Trail, which meanders along the riverfront through ponderosa pine forests and canyons, is a dream for walkers and runners. Even when temperatures are chilly, surfers, kayakers and paddleboarders don wetsuits and surf the wave feature at the Bend Whitewater Park. The innovative park with three water channels is also a habitat for birds and other local wildlife.

woman lighting incense outdoors
Photo courtesy of Juniper Preserve